The notion of talking cars just isn’t nearly as fun or intriguing as that of animals, dolls, or even plastic army men. Undoubtedly caught up in the raging popularity of Nascar, Pixar has chosen to utilize automobiles as their source material in the uneven, but nevertheless entertaining Cars. The film is easily their weakest effort to date, but Pixar on a bad day is better than most studios on a good day.
Our hero is Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), a hotshot racecar driver (of himself, I suppose) who gets lost en route to his next race and ends up in the outpost town of Radiator Springs. There he meets Mater (voiced by Larry The Cable Guy), a rust bucket of a tow truck, Doc (voiced by Paul Newman), an aging racer, Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt), a luxury car as well as the town’s lawyer, and a host of other townies. Initially wanting to leave as soon as possible to get back to his fast-paced lifestyle (rimshot!), Lightning soon discovers endearing qualities to the town and its residents.
Pixar’s animation, as one would come to expect considering their track record, is off-the-scales awesome. The locales are incredibly luscious and it feels like you could just reach out and grab a handful of the Radiator Springs dirt and sand. A scene involving Lightning and Sally taking a scene drive may feature the most beautiful animation of the Pixar catalog. They continue to push the limits of technology as well as set the bar, and Cars is no exception.
But the film hits some speed bumps that we aren’t so accustomed to. The nearly two-hour runtime is largely to blame, as the script drags many scenes out (particularly when Lightning is forced to re-pave a stretch of road after a mishap) and takes several rest stops in the humor department. This is not nearly as rapid-fire as, say, Finding Nemo or even Toy Story, and some viewers may become impatient with the leisurely pace. Furthermore, the jokes seem lazier; rarely diverting from obvious car puns.
It is the sentimental value that saves the film from being a true disappointment. There is added depth to this story as we learn the history of Radiator Springs and realize the value of true friends and acceptance. As usual with Pixar films, everyone in the audience can pull a life lesson from this film. That’s what’s at the heart of these true family films, and Cars does succeed in that respect.
For the first time Pixar is really touting their voice talent, but it’s likely the weakest of their cinematic lot. Owen Wilson is dry and rarely that fun. His demeanor doesn’t transfer well to the material. If any character is truly to be remembered from Cars, it’s Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. Larry brings great spirit to the joyous, carefree tow truck, and I certainly never thought I’d find myself saying that Larry the Cable Guy was funny. He even squeezes in an “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.” The supporting cast is solid, particularly Paul Newman as Doc and Tony Shalhoub as Luigi. George Carlin also turns up, oh so appropriately I might add, as the stoner van.
Cars is certainly a step down for Pixar, but it was bound to happen at some point. They are still the premier animation studio out there and will continue to set the standard for the competition. This is still a film worth seeing and one that contains the good-hearted and understanding messages we need at the cinema these days.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 116 Minutes
Theatrical Release: June 9, 2006
Directed by: John Lasseter
Written by: Dan Fogelman & John Lasseter & Joe Ranft & Kiel Murray & Phil Lorin & Jorgen Klubien.
Cast: Owen Wilson (voice), Paul Newman (voice), Bonnie Hunt (voice), Larry the Cable Guy (voice), Cheech Marin (voice), Tony Shalhoub (voice)